Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Peter Lee has joined with six other regional VCs to lobby the federal Senate to pass a bill to allow universities to charge an amenities fee.
“The fee is not to be used for any political purposes of any shape or size of description, it’s not a student union fee, it’s to support sporting clubs, cultural clubs, enhance student legal services, childcare and career services. There’s a whole range of student services, like the ability to run a shuttle bus between campuses and student accommodation,” Professor Lee said.
The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill was introduced by the government and passed the House of Representatives with the support of the independents Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilke and the Greens Adam Bandt last week. It proposes a levy capped at a maximum $250 a year, which would be indexed. Universities would be required to consider the views of students in determining whether to charge a fee and at what level it should be set.
Until 2005 University Student Union fees were compulsory and student unions provided a whole raft of services. The Howard government passed legislation banning compulsory student unionism, which led to a huge drop in funding and loss of amenities.
“Some services disappeared altogether, money has been channelled out of the general budget, particularly for sporting and cultural activities and we’ve subsidised travel to inter varsity games, and for cultural clubs,” Professor Lee said. “We’ve been unable to fund all of what we used to because we don’t have that money.
“Student life has been diminished because of the lack of funding, not just Southern Cross but the whole sector. It’s been diminished across all Australian university campuses and been particularly acute in the regions. We don’t have the same sort of amenities as you get in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.
“All seven regional VCs agree how important we think that is, that’s why we’re urging the Senate to pass this bill. It’s not about left-leaning unions trying to channel money to political causes, nothing could be further from the truth, which is the perception of some Coalition Senators. This money isn’t about that; if you want to support a political cause by all means do so, but we shouldn’t be funding that. If you want to get involved, you need to put up your own time and money.
“The overall student experience is diminished with less services and amenities. Students learn not only in lectures and tutorials, but they also learn to interact across a broad range of experiences and that does happen in a class room, but equally in a social and cultural environment. What better way to promote understanding and learning than being part of a cultural club?”
Nationals Senator Fiona Nash is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education but did not return repeated calls.